One day to cuts: What's Congress doing?
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- There's only one day left before $85 billion in widely disliked spending cuts start to take effect. What are Congress and the president doing Thursday to deal with this self-inflicted crisis?
Senate to hold show votes on Democratic, GOP alternatives
Votes in the Democratic-controlled Senate are expected Thursday afternoon on alternative plans put forward by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. Neither proposal will win the 60 votes necessary to clear the 100-member chamber. At this point, the votes appear to be more about making political statements than trying to avert the looming cuts.
Democrats propose to replace the current spending cut package with a $110 billion plan that includes new taxes on millionaires, ensuring a minimum 30% rate for those making over $5 million. The measure would also cut agriculture subsidies and further reduce defense spending.
Republicans are nearly unified in opposing any new taxes -- a position Reid calls a deal killer.
Republican leaders want to give the president more flexibility to decide where the cuts will occur. Under the GOP proposal, President Obama would be required to submit a list of replacement cuts to Congress by March 15. Congress would have one week to object to the plan, though a veto-proof majority would be required to overcome presidential backing.
Defense cuts wouldn't be allowed to exceed more than half of the overall spending reductions.
While it's possible a few more conservative Democrats could back the GOP plan, the proposal might also lose some Republicans. Democrats worry that would let Republicans off the hook while placing responsibility for the cuts clearly on the president's shoulders; critics in both parties consider the idea an abdication of Congress's power of the purse.
White House meeting set for Friday -- too little, too late?
Obama is set to meet with Democratic and Republican Hill leaders at the White House on Friday -- the same day he is required to begin implementing the cuts. Expectations are low. Most observers think both sides will use the occasion to underline their positions heading into the next round of the budget wars -- a possible government shutdown on March 27, when current federal funding authority expires.
House members get ready to bolt
The Republican-controlled House has one vote scheduled Thursday -- on the Violence Against Women Act. There are no plans to vote on anything related to the spending cuts. After the vote, most House members will leave Washington for the weekend.
For its part, the Senate has no votes scheduled for Friday.
"We've done our work" in the House, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Thursday morning. Senators have "not done theirs. The House shouldn't have to pass a third bill to replace the (looming cuts) before the Senate passes one."
During the last Congress, the House passed two GOP-authored bills to replace the now-imminent spending cuts. Democrats dismissed the bills, which had no chance of clearing the Senate or surviving a presidential veto, as ideological showboating.
Reid & McConnell blame game rolls on
"Republicans call (their) plan 'flexibility.' But let's call it what it really is: a punt," Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. "Republicans should give Congress true flexibility -- flexibility to cut wasteful subsidies, flexibility to close unnecessary tax loopholes and flexibility to ask the richest of the rich to contribute a little more. Instead, they're completely inflexible -- insisting we risk hundreds of thousands of American jobs, as well as programs that strengthen families and small businesses across this nation.
"But that should come as no surprise," Reid added. "As usual, Republicans have put the demands of special interests over the needs of middle-class Americans."
McConnell replied by noting that "top Democrats already concede (their plan) will never garner enough votes to pass the very legislative body they control, much less the House."
"Let's be very clear," he added. "For the president and his allies, that's really the whole point. They want it to fail, so they can go around the country blaming Republicans for a (spending cuts package) the president proposed. ... Instead of changing as they promised, Washington Democrats are just turning back to the same old campaign-first strategy they've employed for years."
McConnell also accused Obama of wanting to the make the looming cuts "bite as hard as possible -- all to send a simple message to the public: 'You want to control Washington spending, America? Fine, let me show you much I can make it hurt.' "
Pelosi says spending cuts = war on women
Friday "is the beginning of Women's History Month," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, told reporters on Capitol Hill. "We like to think of it as Women's Progress Month, acknowledging our history, seeing what more we have to do. And why I mention these two points is because of the impact of (the current spending cuts package) on women. It is specific, it is large, and it's substantial, and it must be avoided."
"Just consider this," Pelosi added. "Cuts to women's health from prenatal care to cancer screenings, cuts to services, to victims of domestic violence -- $20 million will be cut out of the Violence Against Women account. ... Cuts to initiatives to support children and families, like WIC (the Women, Infants, and Children program) and Head Start, cuts to public sector jobs, where women are 50% more likely than men to be employed, and therefore fired."
Democrats "come to Washington to be legislators," she insisted. "Somehow, that piece is missing in what the Republicans are doing here. They're just making noise. They're just saying something that might have good sound for domestic consumption back home. But they did not come here to legislate."